Several characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have served as commissioned officers in the military. But while countless discussions debate their merits as heroes or villains, few evaluate their performance as military officers. The MCU’s military officers routinely flout rules, regulations and direct orders that real-life officers couldn’t likely justify while retaining their careers. But the military’s oaths compel its members to disobey unlawful orders, so their moral motivations must get taken into account.
Steve Rogers Protects His Troops in the MCU
Steve Rogers’ abilities as a military officer are best on display in The Avengers when he maps out how best to utilize each available Avenger’s abilities to achieve the most cohesive countermeasures to the Chitauri invasion, then does the same for NYPD officers on the streets. And when Tony Stark questions Nick Fury’s secrecy and true intentions, Steve tells Tony to focus on the mission. Junior officers uphold senior officers’ authority to maintain trust in the overall command structure. But Steve then investigates independently and confronts Fury over S.H.I.E.L.D. emulating Hydra’s methods. Good officers take their troops’ concerns into consideration. By investigating Tony’s suspicions while telling Tony to stand down, Steve shields Tony from the fallout if he’s caught snooping by Fury.
Sam Wilson Defuses Conflicts With Empathy
Steve sympathizes with others but doesn’t always understand them. Empathy is Air Force Capt. Sam Wilson’s gift. Good officers both feel for their troops and grasp what drives them. Sam nearly defuses the Flag Smashers’ campaign in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier by relating to Karli Morgenthau’s motivating traumas, then confronting her with consequences she didn’t intend. Following their spat, Sam also advises “Bucky” Barnes on how to complete his recovery from being the Winter Soldier.
While Sam has never led an Avengers-sized team, he works well with Air Force 1st Lt. Joaquín Torres during aerial combat as the Falcon, with Torres as his “man on the ground.” Their teamwork has advanced to devising strategies together on the fly. And Torres proactively pursues independent investigations into the Flag Smashers because officers are expected to display initiative, proving Sam’s ability to influence others.
John Walker Deserved His Discharge but Still Has Potential in the MCU
After creating an international incident by executing a surrendering member of the Flag Smashers overseas in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, John Walker is discharged from the Army and stripped of his military rank as captain and the mantle of Captain America. Walker’s impatience sabotages Sam’s connection with Karli, and his ham-fisted diplomacy provokes a beating from the Dora Milaje. Walker resorts to threatening the Flag Smashers’ allies after his title as Captain America fails to command their respect. The Flag Smasher he kills didn’t even cause the death of his combat partner, Lemar “Battlestar” Hoskins. Walker is arrogant, ignorant, entitled and out of control, and the government is right to discharge him.
But Walker also has three Medals of Honor and earns the lifelong loyalty of Lemar Hoskins in Afghanistan. He also reaches out to Sam and Bucky because he recognizes they’ll be more effective working in concert. And when choosing between revenge against Karli versus saving the Flag Smashers’ hostages, John puts civilian lives first, earning him Sam’s head nod of respect. Whether Walker deserves his second chance as U.S. Agent, he could fulfill his potential as an officer.
Rhodey’s Commitment Is Mediocre
Air Force Col. James Rhodes’ relationship with Tony Stark compromises the performance of his duties as an officer. As the military’s liaison to Stark Industries, Rhodey covers for Tony at the expense of national security and risks his career to rescue Tony from the Ten Rings. Tony rewards Rhodey (and the military) by shutting down Stark Industries’ weapons manufacturing. But when Rhodey confronts Tony for operating his armor while drunk, it escalates the danger to everyone around them. Rhodey delivers War Machine to the military, but more as a means of slapping back at a former friend than renewing his sworn allegiances. “Commitment” is a core value of multiple branches of service. James Rhodes demonstrates an unreliable commitment to his duties.
Carol Danvers Plays Well With Others in the MCU
Air Force Captains Carol Danvers, Maria and Monica Rambeau define dedication to duty, even when those they serve don’t deserve it. Carol hones her perseverance even prior to her stint in the service. Carol and Maria joined the Air Force in the 1980s before the ban on women serving in warplane cockpits got revoked in 1991. Even with Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. exempting them from that ban, advancing so far in their careers attests to their fortitude in facing the military’s contemporary mores. Since Carol’s Air Force and Avengers roles have allowed her to operate independently, her stint in the Kree Empire’s Starforce best showcases her as an equal team player. As long as she’s deceived about her true identity and the nature of her powers, “Vers” performs competently as “one of the gang.”
Monica Rambeau Lives up to Maria’s Legacy
Maria Rambeau’s strengths as an officer are underscored by her founding and service as the original director of S.W.O.R.D. Creating and leading a high-level extra-governmental intelligence agency demonstrates Maria’s organizational skills, strength of will and ability to command loyalty and respect from a broad range of personnel. Maria’s discipline is evident in the policy she institutes — after her daughter, Monica, disappears during Maria’s battle with cancer — that any “snapped” S.W.O.R.D. agents should be grounded if they return.
Tyler Hayward becomes the new director of S.W.O.R.D. after Maria succumbs to cancer. Monica strives to work with him in WandaVision, but his malicious ineptitude in responding to Wanda Maximoff extends to dismissing Monica’s insights on solving the crisis. She then gains powers by risking her life to prevent further harm to Wanda or anyone else in or near Westview. Steve Rogers would salute that sacrifice.
Bad Officers Fight For Themselves First
Good officers can make mistakes if their egos permit them to admit their errors. Army Col. Chester Phillips prefers robust Gilmore Hodge to scrawny Steve Rogers to receive the Super Soldier Serum until Phillips tosses out an apparently live grenade, and Steve throws himself on top of it. Phillips tells Dr. Abraham Erskine, “He’s still skinny,” but that’s what he’s telling Erskine to fix with his serum.
But people like Army Lt. Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and British Royal Marines Capt. Emil Blonsky inevitably put their interests above the mission. Blonsky disregards Ross’ field orders for Rio de Janeiro, Culver University and Grayburn College, then knocks a fellow officer unconscious to turn himself into the Abomination and get revenge on Bruce Banner. Ross’ daughter calls him out for scapegoating Banner to protect his career. And when Thanos’ invading forces prompt the fugitive Avengers to rejoin their former teammates, Ross tries to re-litigate their defiance of the Sokovia Accords.